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The Life of the Creative Spirit

The just-graduated mechanical engineer was astounded. He had never seen such a collection of invention, of sheer creativity, gathered in one place. He wandered among more than 90 idea-packed pavilions sprawled across two small islands in the St. Lawrence River. "That was a big turning point in my life," says H. Charles Romesburg (ENGR ’72G) about Expo ’67, the Montreal World’s Fair. Here was a confluence of all the world’s recent discoveries, dreams, and divergent challenges.

Ultimately, the marvels of engineering in his studies weren’t enough to satisfy Romesburg’s expo-size curiosity. He wanted to know more—about everything. So he began reading the diaries and journals and letters of creative people. "I was reading to understand how lives worked," he says. "I draw a lot of power from that in my own life."

He now teaches courses about creativity and ethical decision-making as a forestry professor at Utah State University. His book, The Life of the Creative Spirit (Xlibris Corporation), evolved from his readings "across lives." He uses decision theory, something he learned as an engineer, to analyze the creative process; and much of the book is devoted to uncommon quotes from a wide-ranging collection of creative people, culled from Romesburg’s years of late-night readings.

Cindy Gill




Matchless

Jane Candia Coleman was on vacation when she received a telephone call. The University of Pittsburgh wanted her to teach writing classes.

I don’t know how to do it, she said.

She hesitantly took the job. It was the early 1980s, and Candia Coleman (CAS ’61) was working as a feature writer at two of Pittsburgh’s weekly papers. "I learned that I loved teaching," she says.

After lecturing at Pitt, she started a popular women’s writing group at Carlow College in Pittsburgh. She also helped found Carlow’s Women’s Creative Writing Department.

In 1986, Candia Coleman decided to move West to become a full-time writer. Since then, she has written books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, garnering five Pulitzer Prize nominations. She also received three Western Heritage Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, among a list of many other prestigious awards and nominations for her 19 books.

Her book Matchless (Five Star) is the latest of her historical fiction novels, which focus on Western women. "I’ve been fascinated with Western women whose stories haven’t been told correctly," she says. "It is important, because history is never one-sided."
—Meghan Holohan





Warriors

Peace sometimes can be found by finding a final resting place for the past. Such is the case for Robert Tonsetic, who put his Vietnam War experience on paper some 30 years after the war ended. Tonsetic’s carefully researched records of his soldiering days are in Warriors: An Infantryman’s Memoir of Vietnam (Random House). The book is neither pro nor antiwar; rather, it’s an objective account of what happened.

Tonsetic (CAS ’64) began active duty in the U.S. Army within months of graduating from Pitt. It wasn’t long before Tonsetic was commanding Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry during the bloody Tet and May offensives.

War has always shaped Tonsetic’s life. His great-great-grandfather fought in the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, his grandfather served in World War I, and Tonsetic’s earliest memories are of growing up in World War II defense worker housing on the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh.

He retired from the army in 1991 as a colonel and began a new career in teaching at the University of Central Florida. Yet, the memories of Vietnam have "stayed with me," says Tonsetic, prompting the book. Although he reports the war left him with no psychological scars, he does say writing the book was "therapeutic."
—Kris B. Mamula




American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War

The lights go down; the curtain goes up. We settle into our seats and watch as a drama plays out in front of us. If the story is good, filled with dramatic tension at just the right spots, our emotions will soar and fall as if on an amusement park ride, and when the lights go up we’ll have a lot to talk about. "We" are the audience, and whether we know it or not, what we see when we watch a play is determined in part by the larger culture in which we exist.

Bruce McConachie, interim chair of the University’s theatre arts department and a theater history professor, explores the unconscious attitudes of 1950s theatergoers and their reactions to popular dramas in American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War (University of Iowa Press). He’s been thinking about these plays for nearly four decades, since his undergraduate days at Grinnell College.

"I was already looking critically at them. In this book, I wanted to get at larger cultural issues." Issues such as suburbanization, consumerism, and the "bunkering of Mom in the kitchen"—all emblematic of mid-20th century America and all affecting the mindsets of those who went to the theater.
—Amy Sousa



The Drowned Girl

As an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College, Eve Alexandra (FAS ’97) was part of a theater group that performed original plays. Alexandra would write pieces for the troupe to perform; yet the group was never enthusiastic about performing her plays. Alexandra’s work seemed more like poetry to the actors.

Then she took a class taught by Mark Doty, an award-winning poet—and she finally found an outlet for her writing. Yet, after graduation she pursued acting. Finally she started looking for a poetry master of fine arts program after she tired of what she considered the superficiality of acting. She chose Pitt because she knew that Ed Ochester, professor emeritus of English and editor of the Pitt Poetry Series, was here.

"I do a lot of acting in my poems," she says. "I think of the page as a stage, particularly for women."

Alexandra—who teaches creative writing at the University of Vermont in Burlington—wrote about half her poems in The Drowned Girl (Kent State University Press) while attending Pitt. The book won the publisher’s Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize in a contest judged by C.K. Williams, who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
—MH






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